Opposition accuses UK govt of sleaze amid lobbying scandal

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly session of Prime Ministers Questions in Parliament in London, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON – A lobbying scandal swirling around former British Prime Minister David Cameron has deepened, with claims that a senior civil servant held down a part-time job with a now-bankrupt financial firm that was awarded lucrative government contracts.

It is the latest in a growing tide of revelations about links between government ministers, civil servants and Greensill Capital, a financial services firm that collapsed last month, threatening thousands of jobs at a British steelmaker it helped finance.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the revelations showed the “sleaze and cronyism that’s at the heart of this Conservative government.”

“We need to overhaul this whole broken system,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government defeated an opposition effort to force a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of cronyism and improper lobbying. Lawmakers in the House of Commons, where the Conservatives have a majority, rejected the idea by a vote of 357-262.

Soon after, though, the House of Commons' influential cross-party Treasury Select Committee announced that it would begin an investigation next week into Greensill's collapse and the “appropriateness” of the U.K. Treasury's response to lobbying. The committee has the power to call witnesses, potentially including Cameron and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak.

The government has launched its own investigation, led by a lawyer, but opponents doubt it will get to the truth. Opposition parties are calling for tougher rules on contacts between business representatives and government officials, saying Britain’s laxly enforced lobbying regulations leave the door open to corruption.

The head of the civil service also ordered all government departments to declare whether any officials had second jobs outside government. Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said in a letter to ministries that there was “acute concern” in government about issues raised by the Greensill affair.